Monday, June 3, 2013

Poll vaults under RTI
By Mail Today Bureau in New Delhi

CIC bench rules that political parties will now be under purview of RTI Act

WITH elections around the corner the Central Information Commission ( CIC) struck a revolutionary note on Monday, which will not be agreeable to many politicians and political parties.
Claiming to be ushering in an era of transparency and accountability in politics, a full bench of CIC on Monday brought political parties under the purview of Right to Information ( RTI) Act, bring political funding directly in the public domain.
A full bench of the panel comprising Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra and Information Commissioner M. L. Sharma and Annapurna Dixit held six parties — Congress, BJP, CPM, CPI, NCP and BSP — to whom RTI queries were directed at, fulfil the criteria of being public authorities under the RTI Act.
The bench also directed the parties to comply with the provisions of mandatory proactive disclosures clauses given under the Act and put those details on their websites.
Though most parties welcomed the move, saying it will bring transparency, some leaders appeared unhappy as it will put an end to the manipulation of funds.
Apart from lavish funding by corporate houses, dubious and criminal elements also donate funds. Many leaders also use black money to contest polls.
Name donors
The case relates to RTI queries from activist Subhash Agrawal and Anil Bairwal of Association of Democratic Reforms who had sought to know the finances of, voluntary financial contributions received by these six parties and the names and addresses of the donors besides other details which were refused as the political parties claimed they do not come under the RTI Act.
Many feel the ruling, coming ahead of the upcoming elections in five states and the Lok Sabha polls in 2014, will change the face of electioneering.
Asked if the Congress welcomed the ruling, AICC spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed merely said : “ How can I oppose the ruling of CIC?” Activistturned- politician Arvind Kejriwal, however, hailed the move. “ We welcome CIC judgement bringing political parties under RTI. We have already implemented RTI in AAP. We have put list of donors on our website suo moto.
The Congress, BJP and other parties should put the list of all donors on website as per RTI.’’ Former Rail Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Dinesh Trivedi went a step further demanding political parties to pay regular income tax. “ Why not make the political parties pay income tax and all their accounts audited periodically? Thousands of crores in donations are in banks and being invested in bonds and debentures… Is there any way to know how much the parties are earning on these?’’ During Monday hearing, key point of political parties having large tracts of land in prime areas of Delhi at low rates also came up for discussion.
The bench held the income tax exemptions granted to the parties and the free air time given by All India Radio and Doordarshan at the time of elections also substantially contribute to indirect financing from the government.
Govt help
Besides, huge government accommodations have been put at the disposal of political parties at hugely cheap rates thereby bestowing financial benefits on them, the bench said.
RTI activist Agarwal said Monday’s verdict will give a boost to civil rights activists seeking details on political funding and the “ possible misuse of funds in the name of elections”. “ At a time when the current political system is rotten with corruption and scams, the verdict will strengthen our hands, Agarwal said.
The BJP was, however, unfazed by the verdict.
“ We are not anxious after this decision, we are a clean party... We welcome it,’’ BJP leader Vijay Sonkar Shastri, said.
Many feel ruling, coming ahead of upcoming polls in 5 states and Lok Sabha polls in 2014, will change the face of electioneering
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